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Musings: Our Mortality

Yet another friend has returned to the great eternity.  Just over a year ago I dealt with the passing of five people who were close to me, some more than others.  Four of them died within a seven-week span, and the fifth, my dear church sister Susan, just two months after that.  At the time I remember feeling a sense of dis-ease, and although I have many spiritual tools and good friends to help me deal with this kind of thing, I was aware of “descending into greyness” and came to the conclusion that I was in a mild depression, which is not abnormal or alarming given the circumstances.

Last Thanksgiving, as Rich and I spent our now traditional week down in Orlando, I was on the computer and needed to make a rare (for me) foray into Facebook.  While there I found an entry by Rosa, the daughter of a dear old friend, Santiago.  Santiago was an engineer who I came to know very well, along with his wife Josefina, when I lived on the island of La Maddalena in Sardinia, Italy in the 70’s.  But more than an engineer, Santiago was an artist.  He painted using many mediums, he created exquisite mosaics, and he was a talented guitar player and writer.  Santiago was also my unofficial mentor, and he re-awoke my dormant Muse and I began writing and painting again.

Rosa’s posting was a photo of Josefina, and the caption read: “Here’s Mummy putting roses on Pappy’s tomb for his birthday.”  My hands froze over the computer keyboard as the significance of those words sank in.  I contacted Rosa immediately and she confirmed the sad news that Santiago had had a very serious stroke from which he had never recovered, and that he had passed last April.  Once the initial feelings of deep grief subsided, I was able to feel so grateful for his presence in my life and also for the fact that just two years ago my husband had gifted me with a week-long trip to Puerto Rico so that I could visit Santiago and Josefina and spend some wonderful time with them after about twenty five years of absence.

On our way home from that stay in Orlando, Rich and I stopped to visit with old friends from our time in Italy.  PA had been Richard’s Department Head on his first ship, U.S.S. Belknap (since decommissioned) in Gaeta, Italy in the mid-80’s, and then in the 90’s he had been his CO on another tour in Naples, Italy.  PA retired in the early 2000’s and on New Year’s Day 2006 he had a massive brain aneurism which robbed him of motor coordination and most speech.  He and Deb, his devoted wife, returned to live in DeBary, FL in 2007.  PA was wheelchair bound and had very little communication capability but when we visited them, which coincided with our Orlando trips each year, we could see that PA was “still there”.  Recognition and interest would flare in his eyes and we somehow knew that he appreciated our visit.

During the evening of 3 January 2013, we heard from Deb that PA was not long for this world and, in fact, he died in the early hours of the next day.  Yesterday we attended his funeral Mass and my husband was asked to speak about PA on behalf of the family.  As I heard Rich’s words of appreciation for this man, I was also drawn to my own place of gratitude – gratitude not only for PA and all he represented both as a a Naval officer and as a family man, and for the opportunity we had to know the whole family and be enriched by their presence in our lives, but also for life in general, the precious gift that it is, and for friendship and the gift that that is. I was also grateful that God had given us the opportunity to be present and supportive to our friends at their time of loss and deep personal grief.

As I remembered our last visit with Deb and PA, I then thought about the passing of my beloved soul-sister Cawne the week following Thanksgiving.  I will be writing a separated posting about Cawne because of the important place she held in my heart and in my life.  All that I will say here is that she was one of three people near and dear to me that I have lost recently all in the space of seven weeks.  That makes a grand total of eight losses in just over fourteen months.  I cannot help but wonder what is the “message” or the lesson behind all that loss, and I have been resting in the Creator’s loving arms about that.

There are three themes that have surfaced.  The first is that I have been prepared to carry this weight and, in dealing with my own grief, I have been able to support many people as they have journeyed through their grief. The second is related to my preparation as a spiritual director.  I firmly believe that I am being groomed to help others as they deal with their grief, to be a spiritual companion in this particular stage of peoples’ lives.  And the third is that I believe Creator is also teaching me about and gently bringing me closer to full acceptance of my own mortality.

And so as I close this blog I am also acutely aware that I want to write another blog dedicated to this particular topic.  So many people, in the Western world are scared to think about death and dying and live in a state of complete fear and denial of death, especially their own or that of their loved ones.  And yet death is the one thing that we are guaranteed to have to face in life.  Because of personal denial of the possibility of death and the general culture surrounding death in the Western world, many people are completely unprepared for the moment. Without being morbid,  I want to write about the subject so that whoever reads about it can choose to be somewhat prepared.

Musings: Love–Our Wedding Anniversary

A few weeks ago Richard and I celebrated twenty eight years of marriage.  I began the day in my usual fashion, out on the lanai having my quiet time with God.  My husband was inside having his quiet time too, and through the open door I could feel the connection as we each experienced our own unique relationship with God.  As I read my various daily reflections, the meaning of that day slowly sank in. 

We had known each other for almost twenty nine years.  I met Richard towards the end of July 1983, and we married on 24 March 1984.  It was a bit of a scary time for me.  I had been married once before for almost ten very unhappy years and it had been ten years since I had separated and consequently divorced that man.  I had lived much of that previous marriage emotionally alone, and had become very independent and self-sufficient in the ensuing ten years.  Oh, and did I mention that Richard is almost twenty years my junior??

I thought back to that time after Richard asked me to marry him and remembered how much praying and self-questioning I went through.  I had also insisted that we speak with the priest and go through counseling, and then I went on a retreat to distance myself from the relationship for forty eight hours, just to have some clarity and see if I had any different thoughts and feelings about the situation.  After doing everything I thought I should do to be sure of how I felt, we went ahead and married.

I sat there on the twenty fourth of March this year with a very full heart as I traveled back in time, and the prevailing thought was “where had all those twenty eight years gone?”.  The words from a well-known Christian song came to mind: “in the blink of an eye”.  As I said goodbye to Richard that morning (he had a day-long class he had to attend), I remembered our first real kiss. It had me blushing for a moment because it was a very incredible and passionate kiss and I remember thinking that I could just have floated off in that kiss all those years ago.  But it was also a very tender kiss, and I think that’s what sold me on Richard from the very first – he was such a tender person.  Tender-hearted as a person as well as tender towards me, and others.

If I needed any other evidence of the years we have been together, we have a twenty seven-year old daughter, Melissa, who is proof-positive that all those “blink-of-an-eye” years really existed. I remember very well appearing in a play, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, when I was about six months pregnant with her, and my eldest son, Marco, from my first marriage, break dancing day in and day out during the pregnancy.  Melissa was born to the rhythm of break dance.

While Richard was in class, I got on with my day and couldn’t help but notice in great detail the contents of our home, which is something between an art gallery and a curio shop.  There are paintings and photos all over the walls.  The paintings come from many different places that either Richard has travelled to during his years in the Navy or that we both have travelled to together.  Then there are the statues and figurines that cover every shelf and available surface throughout the house.  Many people are quite taken aback when they visit our home for the first time because of all “the stuff”.  But everything is a joyful representation of the years that we have been together and the memories that we have created.

When Rich came home from class, we got ready to go out and celebrate our anniversary.  First we went to the El Apache restaurant to enjoy a delicious Mexican meal.  With tummies pleasantly full we then headed over to the Thrasher-Horne Center for Arts to see a show.  A few weeks earlier, at a silent auction fund-raiser at our church, we had won the bid on two tickets for The Peking Acrobats which were dated twenty four March.  I think the only reason we bid on them was because the date was the same as our anniversary.  The show was quite breathtaking and very exciting and it was a great way to celebrate the day.

However, we didn’t quite finish the celebrations at that point.  Instead of heading home, Richard pointed the car in the other direction.  You see, he has an absolute weakness for Shakes, a small drive up cubicle that sells shakes and sundaes made with frozen custard.   And so we completed our evening enjoying our favorites: for Rich this was a strawberry milkshake, extra thickSmile; for me it was a kiddy-cup with one small scoop of vanilla frozen custard topped with a healthy drizzle of caramel – yumSmile.  A perfect finish to a perfect evening, and here’s to number twenty nine!!


Back in February our church held it’s yearly grand fund-raiser – a silent auction.  The organizing committee really pulled out all the stops and created an incredible evening of fun and entertainment.  Our Fellowship Hall was transformed into something that resembled a New Orleans night club/café.  Sparkling gold, green and purple beads and baubles decorated tall round café tables and stools, and similar colors decorated the walls and the many tables cram-packed with items for the silent auction.

One side classroom held some very yummy food – and plenty of it!  I went back a couple of times because there was just so much to choose from and it was all very appetizing.  (Church ladies sure know how to cook!)  The other side classroom was a fun “ticket auction” area.  You bought a sheet of tickets that all had the same number on and you went round the room looking at the various items displayed and each one had a plastic cup in front of it.  If you liked an item, you tore off a ticket (or more than one) and popped into the cup.   You maintained the stub which carried the same number as the tickets.

Both the silent auction and the ticket auction were closed at the same time.  We had made bids on a few items and were happy to win a couple, especially tickets for a showing of the Peking Acrobats which were dated for our wedding anniversarySmile.  When the results were displayed for the numbers pulled from the ticket auction, we were even more happy to discover that we had won several items including a “Bird/Garden Basket”.  The basket contained several different items including a fun, round, hanging bird house painted bright blue with a straw thatched roof which we hung from a small tree at the back of our yard.

About the same time that I first noticed my Baltimore Oriole, I also noticed a small bird “checking out” the blue bird house.  After observing him a couple of times I identified him as a Carolina Chickadee.  He would sit on the branch that the house hung from and then he’d sit on the peg just below the opening into the house and kind of look in.  Then he’d hop back on the branch.  He did this several times and then he actually put his head inside the opening before hopping back onto the branch. 

This “checking out” continued for several days until one day he brought his mate to check it out too.  They would both pop their heads in and out, then fly back on the branch, then after a while they would fly off.   About a week ago only one of them came but this time he actually went inside the house.  He stayed a few moments then flew off.  This continued for a couple of days and then, as I was sunbathing, I heard this rhythmic tapping coming from inside the bird house.  It went on for a few minutes, then the Chickadee flew out.  He returned another day to do some more tapping.

Finally, two days ago as I was in my early morning quiet time with God, I noticed the Chickadee making repeated fly offs back and forth to the house.  He was most definitely on a mission, flying off then returning about a minute later and going right into the bird house; out again and back a minute later.  So I grabbed the binoculars, watched closely, and realized he was carrying tufts of stuff into the house.  Bingo!  He was nest making.  Since then they have both been back and forth carrying more stuff in to create a soft nest.

Yesterday, while I was out of the house, Richard said he saw an amazing sight.  He had glanced over at the bird house and noticed a squirrel on the branch sniffing out the house.  All of a sudden the two Chickadees appeared and started puffing themselves up, hunching their wings forward and beating them back and forth making a loud whirring noise as they hovered in front of the squirrel.  When that didn’t budge him, they “dive-bombed” him, actually hitting him with their wings, and he finally ran off.

This truly confirmed that we have “guests” in the garden and that they had set up home and were protecting their territory.  We are now looking forward to watching the family form and hopefully we will see the little ones when they begin emerging.  What an amazing creation God has made.   

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